Ohio Airport Eyes Airline Terminal Amid Uncertainty

Wed July 02, 2008 - Midwest Edition
CEG




COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Recent decisions by three airlines to reduce flights through Port Columbus International Airport will lead to a drop in travelers this year and will push back the planned opening of a new terminal until at least 2018, an airport official said.

A record 7.7 million passengers passed through the airport in 2007.

But with the closure in April of Columbus-based low-cost carrier Skybus Airlines, the decision by JetBlue Airways to pull out of the airport in January and Delta Air Lines’ announcement in March of additional deep cuts in its schedule, airport officials expect the number of passengers to drop to about 7.2 million this year.

The drop will cause plans for the opening of a new terminal, which would replace the 1950s-era building, to be pushed back from 2015 to at least 2018, Elaine Roberts, chief executive of the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, told board members recently.

Port Columbus’ five-year lease agreement with it’s remaining airlines expires at the end of 2009. Airport officials will then have to make a case for fee increases that would help pay for the new terminal and other projects.

But industry experts don’t see an end to high fuel prices, and airlines are likely to resist any extra costs.

In Indianapolis, where Roberts was an airport board member before coming to Columbus, a new terminal is set to open in October after 30 years of planning.

“The airlines fought it tooth and nail. We finally had to just pull the trigger,” said John Kish, executive director of the Indianapolis airport. “They seem to have come around.”

Federal and state money, bonds and other financing tools would also help pay for planned expansion at Port Columbus.

Dirt is already being moved to redirect the main road into the airport and to create a new jet taxiway. About $8 million in federal money is funding the taxiway project. Half the cost of the road project is being covered by the Ohio Department of Transportation, with the other half — about $20 million — coming from the airport authority.

Plans also are moving forward on constructing a third runway. The authority expects to take bids on that project in the fall.